Skipper, ESPN celebrate Special Olympics World Winter Games

With Special Olympics USA skier Gary Endecott, from Wyoming. (Courtesy of John Skipper)
With Special Olympics USA skier Gary Endecott, from Wyoming. (Courtesy Mandy Murphy/Special Olympics)

EDITORS NOTE: Below is a note, penned by John Skipper (ESPN President and co-Chair of Disney Media Networks) and shared with ESPN employees on Sunday, following his participation in the Special Olympics World Winter Games Opening Ceremony. Skipper, along with others from ESPN and ABC, have been in Austria to support and deliver ESPN’s ground-breaking coverage of the World Winter Games. Coverage continues each night this week at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN2, and ESPN has added live steaming coverage of some skiing and snowboarding competitions.

“For the next week, this place will be lit with enlightenment, acceptance, with love. No shadows, only shared quests…no judgments, only outcomes.”

That is from the beautiful opening created by your colleagues to start our coverage of the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Schladming, Austria.

Yesterday it rained and rained here. But love and perseverance and joy and accomplishment reigned and reigned, embodied in the persons of the 2700 Special Olympics athletes from 105 countries.

I know this because I had the privilege to see it in their faces, hear it in their exultant whoops and feel it in their relentless high fives as they marched into the Planai Stadium.

I wore a pin given to me by Brightfield Shadi, a World Games Global Ambassador from Serowe, Botswana. In 2008, he discovered Special Olympics, which he says changed his life. He won a silver medal at the World Summer Games in Athens. He is now coaching a unified volleyball team. He practices carpentry and screen prints t-shirts to sell. He enjoys public speaking. And he hugs everybody. I know from a prolonged and wonderful personal experience. It is the best kind of Up Close and Personal.

The team from the United States, 207 strong, was the last to enter the stadium. They approached through the tunnel proudly cheering “USA! USA! USA!” I jumped in among them and was welcomed exuberantly. Not because they knew who I was. They did not. They also did not care. They cared only to be with whoever was among them, enveloped with the pride of their accomplishment as they marched representing their country.

They understand their accomplishment very well. They have felt the transformative nature of sports.

We have the opportunity in the next eight days to tell the inspiring stories of these athletes. That is a great privilege and a great responsibility, which I know we embrace. I have certainly seen the pride of ESPN and ABC employees working on the event here in Austria, at home in Bristol and New York and around the world. I have had a chance to see and read many of the wonderful stories that we will deliver to audiences in 190 countries.

Special Olympics World Winter Games is an event to relish and take pride in. It is a moment to be moved and to do something important. I am humbled to experience it and proud of what ESPN is doing to support this important movement and to expose it to millions of people.

During the opening ceremony the athletes recite the Special Olympics pledge, “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Let us all be brave in the attempt to contribute to, and engage with, this special effort. In doing that we have already won.

John Skipper and The United States during the Opening Ceremony for the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games (Kohjiro Kinno/ESPN Images)
John Skipper and The United States during the Opening Ceremony for the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games (Kohjiro Kinno/ESPN Images)
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